TeleWellnessMD Blog

Diabetes risk factors, symptoms and prevention tips

Posted by Molly Hunsinger on Aug 19, 2015 5:51:57 AM

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Understanding diabetes risk factors, symptoms and prevention tips can help you or someone you love who may be at risk.

Diabetes is one of the top ten causes of death globally, with approximately 422 million people worldwide having diabetes. This number is expected to increase due to the rise of obesity, poor nutrition, and sedentary lifestyles.  In the US, 30.3 million people have diabetes,  with 7.2 million of them being undiagnosed.

Diabetes is a chronic illness that if not diagnosed or treated properly can have a number of complications including blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.

People with diabetes have problems managing the amounts of glucose (sugar) in the blood. When glucose levels build up in your blood instead of being delivered to your cells as fuel, your cells become starved for energy. Over a long period of time, high blood sugar levels lead to kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, and arteriosclerosis. Other complications that come from diabetes and poor blood sugar control include blindness and severe infections. Diabetics also have a higher risk of certain cancers, like pancreatic and uterine cancer. Unfortunately, diabetes isn’t curable—it is, however, manageable.

'Diabesity'

Diabetes is a serious health condition that is now directly linked with obesity. The number of diabetics is rapidly rising and paralleling obesity. This correlation is so strong that diabetes is now considered “Diabesity”. Diabetes is strongly associated with chronic inflammation and together they pose a major health threat. Inflammation can cause insulin resistance and increase the risk of developing diabetes, but having diabetes also creates inflammation and has direct effect on the development of disease.

Differentiating among the types of diabetes

Diabetes can show up in different forms:

  • Type 1 diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, the unpreventable form, is typically diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood and is formerly known as juvenile diabetes. In people with type 1 diabetes, the insulin producing cells in the pancreas (beta cells) stop functioning. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin administration for survival and can’t be controlled with diet and exercise. Possible causes of type 1 include autoimmune disease, genetic disease, and environmental agents.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is the most common form accounting for 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes. People with type 2 make some insulin, but either it’s not enough or their cells become resistant to insulin. Many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood sugar with diet, exercise and oral medication, but some people still require insulin injections.  On average, people with type 2 diabetes die 5 to 10 years before people without diabetes, mostly due to cardiovascular disease. However, many of these cases are preventable.
  • Gestational diabetes: This form is a type of glucose intolerance that occurs in approximately 3 to 5 percent of pregnant women, and should be tested for during the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. There’s an increased risk for pregnant women if they have a strong family history of diabetes or are obese. Women who have gestational diabetes are then at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life (up to 20 years).

Understanding your risk

You can’t prevent type 1 diabetes, and gestational diabetes has limited preventable causes, but you can control the risk factors for type 2 diabetes:

  1. Obesity: This is the single greatest risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, because being overweight can inhibit the body from making or using insulin efficiently. People with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher have an 80 to 90 percent greater incidence of developing type 2 diabetes than people who maintain a healthy weight. To learn more about calculating your BMI click here.
  2. Age: Most people who develop diabetes are over age 40 with the risk increasing as a person ages; however the obesity epidemic in children is resulting in more type 2 diabetes being diagnosed in children.
  3. Family history of diabetes: If you have a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes, you’re at a higher risk.
  4. Gestational diabetes: If you had gestational diabetes, your risk for developing type 2 diabetes increases. According to the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) between 5 to 10 percent of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes.
  5. Physical inactivity: You can prevent up to 80 percent of type 2 diabetes cases by adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity.
  6. Tobacco use: Smoking increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Check with your doctor about a healthy diet and exercise plan to decrease your sugar levels and get back on track to a healthy weight.

Playing your part in prevention

By taking an active role in modifying your lifestyle choices, you can significantly reduce your risk for developing diabetes. Check out the following changes:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight: People who lose an average of 10 pounds of weight through diet and exercise can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by nearly 60 percent. The healthy combination of weight management and exercise not only reduces the risk of diabetes, but for those already diagnosed with diabetes, this combo also can reduce symptoms and improve management of your blood glucose levels. 
  2. Get regular exercise: It’s no secret that regular physical activity is good for you. By exercising for 30 minutes five or more days a week, you significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The key is finding an activity you can do consistently.
  3. Eat a healthy diet: Because diabetes is an illness affecting blood glucose levels, you can help control and moderate those levels with the foods you eat and how often you eat them.
  4. Don't use tobacco:Tobacco use cessation is also important to avoid complications.
  5. Have your fasting blood sugar tested: The American Diabetes Association recommends that if you’re age 40 or older, have your healthcare provider check your fasting blood sugar once every three years. Testing for diabetes is done by a simple blood test or urinalysis.
  6. See your physician: If you experience any of the symptoms listed in the preceding section and you’re under age 40, notify your doctor immediately to schedule a blood sugar test—these symptoms can be serious no matter your age.

Recognizing diabetes symptoms

Over 6 million Americans have diabetes and don’t know it. Diabetes can be effectively managed, but it has to be diagnosed first. Many people with diabetes don’t have recognizable symptoms, while others have symptoms but don’t know they’re indicative of diabetes. Some of the most major symptoms associated with diabetes are:

  1. Excessive thirst: When glucose builds up in your blood stream, fluid gets pulled from your tissues and may make you feel thirsty. As you drink fluids to quench your thirst, you also urinate more frequently.
  2. Extreme hunger: If insulin is unable to move the glucose from your blood into your cells, you feel hungry, even if you just ate.
  3. Unexplained weight loss: Even if you eat more because you’re hungry, you may keep losing weight because the energy from glucose isn’t betting to your muscle tissues and fat stores, so they diminish.
  4. Tiredness and fatigue: Without energy from food in your cells, you get tired, weak, and irritable.
  5. Blurred vision: When blood sugar levels are too high, your body takes fluid from body tissue, including your eyes. This makes it hard to focus.

If you experience one or more of these symptoms and think you may have diabetes, check with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Managing diabetes and considering the prospects

If you have diabetes, it’s imperative that you keep your blood sugar under control. Whether you take insulin, oral medications, or control your diet, the key to minimizing complications from diabetes is to keep your blood sugars within the parameters your doctor sets for you. Taking insulin or oral medication doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Watch what you eat, eliminating refined sugars and empty calories as much as possible.
  • Choose the right types of carbohydrates to stabilize blood sugar.
  • Use the glycemic index—click here for our handy chart—to better understand what foods or food combinations you can eat to keep your blood sugar levels steady.

Another key factor in management of the insulin and blood sugars is to incorporate a weight management and exercise program.

If you’re diabetic, you need to check your blood sugar several times a day. Your doctor can give you a prescription for a glucometer, lancets, and a log book to keep track of your blood sugars. A nurse can show you how to use your glucometer and record the readings and have you give a demonstration to make sure you’re doing it correctly. Your doctor has you check your blood sugar a certain number of times per day based on your blood sugar readings and other health concerns.

Weight loss through diet and exercise can reduce symptoms of diabetes. Download the Free TeleWellnessMD HCG Weight Loss Guide for information about the benefits of HCG.  People with diabetes type 2 can use HCG, but if on medication they should discuss with doctor prior to starting. 

Get Free eBook  HCG Weight Loss Guide

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*Agin, B., & Perkins, S. (2008). Healthy aging for dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub.

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Topics: Diabetes, Healthy Tips

Molly Hunsinger

Written by Molly Hunsinger

Molly Hunsinger is a communications professional and certified group exercise instructor and fitness trainer. Her medical, health and fitness industry background spans nearly three decades with experience working as an instructor trainer, staff trainer, facility manager, group exercise program manager, physician relations manager and marketing director. As a media professional, she has developed and launched award-winning allied marketing and advertising campaigns for luxury retailers, leading nonprofit organizations and foundations and written numerous articles and blogs for both digital and print publications. Molly holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida with a concentration in journalism and digital media studies.